Monstrosity comes in all forms. Or so we learn from Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s existential animated 3D stop-motion picture, “The Boxtrolls.”
Based on Alan Snow’s children’s book trilogy, “Here Be Monsters!”, the 96-minute Laika Entertainment film (the production company responsible for “ParaNorman” and “Coraline”) is a steampunk adventure that explores the meaning of humanity. As the film begins, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kinsley) leads a couple of henchmen through the hilly and windy cobblestone streets of Cheesebridge. Their mission: the virtuous deed of capturing and killing these vile nocturnal Gollum-sized creatures fabled to eat human children; these villainous fiends are called boxtrolls.
According to Snatcher, boxtroll extermination is a noble occupation and his key into the privileged cheese-eating royal ruling guild of white hats Lord Portley-Rinds (Jared Harris), Sir Langsdale (Maurice LaMarche), Sir Broderick (James Urbaniak) and Boulanger (Brian George).
His henchmen follow willingly enough, but don’t share Snatcher’s conviction.
“Do you think boxtrolls understand the duality of good and evil?” asks henchman Mr. Pickles (voiced by Richard Ayoade).
“They must,” answers Mr. Trout (Nick Frost). “Or else why would they hide from us? We are the good guys.”
Except good and evil aren’t clearly defined in Irena Brignull and Adam Pava’s script. While Snatcher shares “Despicable Me’s” Gru’s portly form, his attitude resembles Robert Helpmann’s child catcher from the 1968 classic “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Meanwhile, the boxtrolls are small and childlike, fascinated by round items likes gears and clocks. They talk in an adorable nonsensical babble. And call each other by the labels on the boxes in which they hide in.
Naturally, we fall in love with them. With their oblong heads and glow-in-the-dark yellow eyes, they resemble other animated cuties like “Despicable Me’s” minions.
Their underground lair is the rich and intricate treasure troves in “Wall-E.” Their most precious item: a baby boy (voiced by Isaac Hemstead Wright of “Game of Thrones” fame) fascinated by the lullabies from broken wind-up toys and old Italian barbershop quartet records (composed by Dario Marianelli). The boxtrolls call him Eggs. Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) becomes Eggs’ best friend and parental figure. The animation team, comprised of almost 30 members, create a charming montage into the boxtroll’s wondrous world.
But that world dwindles with each of Snatcher’s triumphs.
Like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” conquers tough issues. Brignull and Pava’s screenplay deals with loss as skillfully as J.K. Rowling did when she penned the scene where Sirius Black fell through the veil in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
“Why do we do this, Shoe?” asks Eggs as his boxtroll friends slowly disappear under Snatcher’s reign. “Carry on like everything’s normal?”
The answer, of course, is to live, but what is a life in hiding?
As difficult and grotesque as some of these lessons are, Annable and Stacchi’s film shows that art imitates real life and real life is ugly. Be sure to stick around for the credits, though, as the animators pull back the curtain and reveal the great wizard of Oz himself.
“The Boxtrolls” was directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and written by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, based on Alan Snow’s novel, “Here Be Monsters!”